Marseille is famous as France’s second largest city, nestled between the mountains and the coast of the Mediterranean. At first impression, it can seem dirty, impoverished and run-down- completely lacking in comparison to its chic older sibling París. Upon closer look, however, the true cultural, historical and especially artistic depth of Marseille can truly be discovered.
This is especially true of the le Cours Julien neighborhood (called “Cours Ju” by the locals), located in Marseille’s 6th arrondissement. The name refers to the street, Cours Julien, that surrounds a mostly pedestrian plaza in this area. It is considered the neighborhood of the creative, “le quartier des artistes, des bobos (Bourgeois-bohème), des rebelles et musiciens de Marseille”.
We stayed on the outskirts of this neighborhood, in a nice Airbnb apartment with a huge outdoor terrace and even a kitty to keep us company. When we arrived it was later in the evening, around 10pm. We first got to a plaza near the apartment, with a few bars open, and some people gathered in small groups drinking beers and smoking cigarettes on the benches. It was relatively dark, and the neighborhood seemed a bit run down and dirty. Not the best first impression, but we were tired and hungry after a long journey and just went to bed.
Emerging in the morning for some sight seeing by the harbor, I was totally surprised to hear from a friend looking up information about the city that the neighborhood we were staying in was actually a really popular local spot for cafés, small shops, parks and even playgrounds for children. Didn’t seem like a place people really wanted to spend too much time…
After a few minutes of walking, however, my mind was totally changed. The dark buildings by night were actually covered with intricate and striking street art and graffiti. We walked down some smaller streets towards the plaza that is surrounded by Cours Julien and I felt like I was in some giant museum, which essentially I was, surrounded on all sides by the colorful street art of Marseilles most creative.
I was so caught up in the art, I forgot about taking too many pictures, but here are just a few of the cool street art I found:
We also stumbled upon tons of interesting shops such as an old bookstore, a cool vintage clothing shop and this strangely intriguing travel agency full of quirky things like bags of sand from all over the world and this collection of hanging globes.
There were also tons of bars and restaurants lining all of the small streets, serving all different kinds of cuisines- traditional French, Indian, American, etc. Unfortunately for us, during August many of the businesses are closed for vacations, so we didn’t get to enjoy Cours Julien to its full potential. However, we could appreciate that because this neighborhood isn’t in the center of Marseille, and its initial outwardly appearance could deter tourists; it was much cheaper than other parts of Marseille.
Plus, because it is the neighborhood of the artists, there were tons of interesting things to see, not just on the buildings, but also people playing music in the plaza, flower, clothes and book markets during the week, festivals and different projects throughout the neighborhood.
So do as the locals do and sit out in the Plaza at Cours Julien, sip on a Rosé and watch the world go by.